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  • Pumpkin Puree: Homemade vs. Store Bought (with recipes)

    I bought some sugar pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and roasted them to make puree yesterday, so I thought I’d do a price comparison on homemade pumpkin puree vs. canned pumpkin.

    One can of organic pumpkin puree at Trader Joe’s is $1.99, and contains approximately 3.5 1/2 cup servings, or about 1.75 cups.

    Sugar pumpkins are $1.99 each at Trader Joe’s – they’re fairly small, which I think makes for better flavor. I tried to pick pumpkins that were heavy for their weight, so the flesh would be moist and dense. Three pumpkins yielded about 6 cups. That works out to $1.74 per 1.75 cups, and I also got about two cups of roasted pumpkin seeds out of my pumpkins. But the price per unit doesn’t factor in the time or energy costs it took to make the puree.

    So I’ll call it about even. After all, making pumpkin puree requires a fair amount of effort, while canned pumpkin has a huge convenience factor in its favor.

    Actually, because the pumpkins I bought weren’t organic, the canned pumpkin probably costs less. But as far as I know, pumpkins are pretty low risk when it comes to pesticide and fertilizer residue. Plus, fresh pumpkin tastes phenomenal and canned pumpkin raises BPA concerns for me.

    Want to try it for yourself? Here’s how I made my pumpkin puree:

    Homemade Pumpkin Puree
    Makes about 2 cups per pumpkin

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a small sugar pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings, saving the seeds if desired. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a lined baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until you can easily insert a knife through the pumpkin.

    Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool on the pan for about 30 minutes.

    Place a food mill fitted with the smallest blade over a large bowl. Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the shell and transfer to food mill. Pass the pumpkin through the food mill, scraping down the side but not pushing the pumpkin through the holes. Use the puree as you would canned pumpkin.

    Note: I have a food mill from my homemade baby food days, so that’s what I used. It makes for a nice puree that still has a bit of texture, but if you don’t have a food mill, I *think* you should be okay with a food processor. Speaking of baby food, you could mix the puree with some applesauce, or add in a little cinnamon to give your baby a new taste.

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    Separate the pumpkin seeds from the strings but do not wash them (they have a lot more flavor this way). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil per cup of seeds and sprinkle with fine sea salt to taste. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for approximately two hours or until golden brown, stirring every half hour.

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    Plan Your Menus Around Seasonal Produce

    In the introduction to the section on side dishes in Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller writes,

    Because these dishes are weighted toward vegetables, they tend to be the most seasonal recipes in the book. . . . So you may well want to plan a meal by choosing one or two side dishes, and then determining what meat or fish would go well with what you’ve chosen.

    That’s a whole new way of thinking to me, as I generally think about varying my proteins with each meal, and then picking a standby side dish to serve with what I have on hand.

    But Chef Keller is right (of course). I’ve been shopping at the farmer’s market almost every week during the summer, and the zucchini, eggplant, peaches, nectarines and strawberries have been incredible. (My oldest and I even sampled dragon fruit for the first time – bleh!)

    I’m starting my foray into cooking my way through Ad Hoc this week with an asparagus dish, because I’m sure asparagus season is coming to an end at the farmer’s market and I know my husband and I (though not the kids) will absolutely adore the Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Fried Bread, Poached Egg, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar (page 156). I’ll get my asparagus at the farmer’s market, my prosciutto at Whole Foods, and I’ll bake my own country loaf for the fried bread using leftover artisan bread dough from tonight’s pizza. I also have a fabulous balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s that I love.

    Becoming a Better Home Cook with Thomas Keller

    One blog that I enjoyed reading was French Laundry At Home, in which Carol Blymire cooked her way through renowned chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. Many of the dishes were incredibly complex, and I derived a lot of vicarious pleasure by reading about Carol’s experiences.

    When Thomas Keller came out with Ad Hoc, a book based on his more casual restaurant, I immediately bought it and enjoyed the pictures and idea of the recipes in it. And then I shelved the book.

    I pulled the book out yesterday and started flipping through it again. The recipes really are doable – and they got me thinking. I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut when it comes to cooking. I find myself making the same things over and over again, and while part of that is due to a lack of time, it’s also partly because I’m a little afraid of trying something new, ruining dinner, and finding myself all stressed out about feeding the kids.

    So . . . I thought of something that would make cooking fun for me again: Cooking my way through Ad Hoc. Although the recipes aren’t too complicated, they are still a little intimidating, in that I feel obligated to acquire the best ingredients possible. But at least I live in Los Angeles, where I can get hold of anything with some searching. This may get a little expensive, but it’ll still be cheaper than going out to eat. I plan to do my experimenting on Fridays or Saturdays, when I don’t have to worry about getting the kids fed and into bed by a certain hour. And I’m hoping that stretching and even going beyond my comfort zone with these recipes will make me a better cook. Plus, I know my husband and I will enjoy the food – and with a little luck, the kids will too.

    I’ll post about the recipes I’m trying, and hopefully my photography skills will improve as well!

    Ideas for leftover macaroni and cheese

    A couple of years ago, I asked for ideas on using up macaroni and cheese after the boys dissed the mac and cheese I made in the rice cooker. I got some terrific suggestions, but never followed up on them here, so I figured it’s better late than never. Thanks to Maranda, Aalarie, Lisa, Camille, Hélène, Katy, Jennifer, Stacee, and the anonymous readers who shared these great ideas:

    Fried macaroni and cheese – Refrigerate leftovers in a baking dish, then cut leftovers into squares (or scoop into balls), dredge in flour, egg and bread crumbs (I would recommend panko for extra crispiness), then fry until golden brown on all sides.

    Chili mac and cheese – Combine leftover macaroni and cheese with some chili.

    Faux hamburger helper – Combine leftover macaroni and cheese with ground beef or turkey. You can add some diced tomatoes, or sneak in other veggies.

    No-bake chicken “casserole” – Stir diced chicken and steamed broccoli into the mac and cheese.

    Ham casserole – Combine mac and cheese with some diced ham and your child’s favorite vegetable, pour into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs (or crumbled Ritz crackers), and bake until top is golden brown.

    Mac and cheese pizzaCiCi’s Pizza has a mac and cheese pizza on their menu.

    “Confetti” mac and cheese – Shred your child’s favorite vegetables and let her sprinkle them on top like confetti.

    Some New Recipes

    I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen yesterday because we had company over for dinner, and came up with a new “recipe” for a roast in the slow cooker. I put recipe in quotes because it was a very spur of the moment thing. I had intended to make my usual roast, but at the last second, I decided not to add the soy sauce. But I didn’t measure, not that anything needs to be exact. I had a 4-pound chuck roast, and I poured about 1/3 cup onion powder, 1/4 cup garlic powder, and 1/4 cup seasoned rock salt all over the meat. (You could substitute about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper for the rock salt.) I left the string on, and cooked the meat on high for about five hours and low for another hour. It came out great, and I got lots of compliments on it.

    This was my first time using my brand new $12 slow cooker, and it worked perfectly. As Marie pointed out, the outside does get quite hot, but all of my slow cookers have been that way since I’ve stayed away from the ones with complicated electronics. I do prefer the oval shaped crock to the round crock like my new cooker has, but I’ll manage since $12 is such a great price.

    For dessert, I made this cookie cake, but I divided the dough in two and froze half. The other half went into a 9-inch springform pan and baked for 25 to 30 minutes until the top was a deep golden brown. I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and it came out of the pan perfectly intact for a beautiful presentation. The best part was that the cookie topping was really crunchy, so the texture was fabulous.

    I also made this apple cake, although we haven’t tried it yet. I omitted the cinnamon and sugar topping, since I wanted to use sanding or turbinado sugar and didn’t realize I was out until right before I put the cake in the oven. I did taste the batter, though, and it was great, so I expect the baked cake to be quite tasty too.

    What new recipes have you tried lately?